Hooked Rugs: Floor to Wall
Hooked rugs have moved up in the world, from the kitchen floor to the wall as works of art.
“There’s a new generation of hookers whose work will never see the underside of a shoe,” says Jessie Turbayne, a rug restorer and author of six books on the subject. For a growing number of hookers (yes, that’s what they call themselves), “hooking is like painting. The wool is their paint and the hook is their paintbrush,” says Jessie, who has a large collection of rugs in her Westwood, Massachusetts, studio.
Similar to paintings, there is now a wide range of hooked rug designs, from stark modern forms to folkloric scenes, subtle landscapes, and expressionistic self-portraits. But it wasn’t always that way. Rug hooking was simply a way to use scraps of cloth too worn for even rag duty.
The hooked rug originated in the New England states and Canadian Maritime Provinces in the early 1800s. Wool, flannel, and cotton pieces were cut into 1⁄4-inch-wide strips and then pulled in loops through a stiff woven backing such as burlap. These rugs typically featured primitive motifs such as farm animals, pets, and flowers, or random stripes of color.
By the late 1800s, patterns were being stamped onto the burlap (showing the hooker what areas to fill in and in which color), allowing more complicated designs to be created and reproduced. Rug hooking became a booming craft industry over the next half-century, especially in the Northeast.
The evolution of the hooked rug from craft to art occurred as hookers began to explore and create more one-of-a-kind works. Today, these rugs have gained appreciation among collectors and interior designers.
A hooked rug — whether an art rug or an antique — adds color, texture, and a personal statement to a room, says interior designer Linda Vantine of East Sandwich, Massachusetts. By virtue of being handcrafted, hooked rugs add a distinct personal element to a room, she says. “It could be a family heirloom or a new design, but you know someone spent hours working on it. It’s intimate.”
This is true of her favorite rug — a wedding rug designed and hooked by her mother-in-law, Marcy Van Roosen, a longtime hooker now living in North Carolina.
The rug portrays two folk figures, with the newlywed couple’s initials and the date. “We stood on it for the wedding ceremony. Then I hung it over the bed. It’s a new family tradition,” Linda says.